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 Kohli Ventures
7 September 2016

An Innovation of Desperation: Could mHealth Change Medicine?

Imagine a world in which there is no need to spend days, or even weeks, waiting for your chance to get a doctor’s appointment. A world where you can simply pick up your mobile phone and receive the correct medical attention for you right in the palm of your hand. While this may sound like scene from a far-fetched sci-fi film, medical innovators believe this form of mobile phone assisted health care could be the norm in the not to distant future. While medical services in developed countries are getting ever more complex, developing countries are suffering with staffing and resource shortages, leading medical innovators to look towards one thing they do have in abundance: mobile phones.

Sophisticated health centres and hospitals are thin on the ground in many developing countries – but the reach of mobile phones is immense. Despite common misconceptions, the Pew Research Centre has shown that mobile phones are just as common in Nigeria and South Africa as they are the United States – a staggering 90% of adults own a mobile device. Because of this accessibility, medical innovators are turning their gaze towards mobile technology in the fight to revolutionise heath care across developing countries. Dubbed ‘mHealth’, is mobile phone assisted health care the future of medicine?

If we turn our attention to the recent Ebola epidemic, it’s evident that mHeath played some role in preventing the disease from gaining a wider spread. With emergency donations amounting to nearly $1.62 billion as of the 1st December 2015, health care specialists harnessed resources to develop an mHealth innovation. A mobile phone app was created, enabling inhabitants to track those who had come in to contact with an Ebola patient. Thanks to this innovative spark, the ability to immediately quarantine potential disease carriers was improved, thus reducing its overall global spread.

Despite epidemics providing funding and pressure to develop immediate systems, using mHealth innovations for epidemics alone does not provide long lasting solutions for developing countries. While the number of deaths caused by Ebola dominated western newspaper headlines, they were surpassed by those dying of pregnancy complications in the same affected areas. Thus reliable mHealth systems to guide women through their pregnancy and educate them in regards to complications, have the power to reduce deaths continually and exponentially. UNICEF’s 1000 Days programme provides pregnant women and new mothers with constant access to nutrition and health advice delivered straight to their mobile phones, potentially saving the lives of both mother and child.

With sparse clinics and hospitals, follow up rates in developing countries remain significantly low. Without adequate follow up checks, previous health care becomes compromised. At the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute we understand that many cornea transplants fail due to irregular follow ups, therefore we’ve placed our efforts into harnessing the power of mHealth. TKCI has implemented a mobile phone system whereby patients are reminded when they’re in need of a check up. With an inbuilt GSP mapping system, patients are able to locate their nearest Cornea Institute at any point. Once a 100% follow up rate is achieved, we will be closer to our goal of eradicating cornea blindness by 2030.

But mHealth is much more than a system to provide mobile reminders and advice; MobiSante , a technology start-up, has developed a smart-phone based app allowing health care workers to perform ultrasounds almost anywhere in the developing world, sharing the images through wifi, usb or cellular networks. By harnessing the technological platform provided by mobile phones plus the extensive reach due to growing cellular networks, medical innovators in developing countries are facing the exciting prospect of limitless utilisation of mHealth in times of desperation.

While hurdles still remain regarding the spread of electricity and technology to each and every inhabitant of the developing world, mobile phone assisted health care may hold the potential to change the way in which medical aid is provided and operated in those countries which need it the most. In countries struggling with inferior infrastructure comes a need for superior innovation – so how long will it be until mobile phone technology is harnessed by all other sectors of developing countries?